Lilly the Mountain Lion has made her way to fame the old-fashioned way: by just showing up, showing off and then disappearing. They say one way for a star to ruin her career is by overexposure. Well, Lilly's publicist must have told her this, because Lilly is doing what divas often do: keeping a low profile at the present.
Since my first articles on Lilly the Mountain Lion, and her precocious cubs, I have learned much about mountain lions in our area as well as mountain lions as a whole. My boys thought summer meant no home schooling, but little did they know they learned more about big cats this past summer than they ever would have through a book. Their hunger to learn, read, research and watch documentaries humored me. Did I tell them I was humored? Not on your life. I just sat by wide-eyed as they discussed and reported their findings. As a mom, I loved it.
The last sighting of one of the kittens was this morning. As I am typing this, it is 10 a.m. and my boys are "schooling." Joe declares in a monotone voice, "There's the cat." My cat Fluffy goes out in the mornings and I told him, "Fluffy's out, yes."
"No," Joe replies, again monotone. "It's the cougar kitten."
"What?" I rip off my screen in my bedroom to get a good look and out from behind Kristin's car (they must like Chevys) Freaky emerges. Jim and I watch him go into the drain under the road disappearing from view. We're excited to have a glimpse in the mid morning, and Joe, still monotone, replies, "it's just like watchin' the deer, a rabbit, or somethin', you just see a cougar like you see anything else 'round here now."
Oh, my soul ... talk about a country boy.
It seems as the kittens have grown older they have become more elusive like their mamma. However, we do not see them nearly as often now. We've only had three up close and personal sightings of Lilly, the mamma cat. We've had around 15 sightings of the kittens. Lilly has either spanked their kitten hindies (well, I know bear mammas do that to their cubs) for showing themselves too much, or they simply have grown older and wiser to know not to be seen.
I must say, however, that I have a daydream of Lilly and the babes being tranquilized and taken to the game farm. Hopefully, this will soon become a reality and I can relax. Oh, I wish. Don't get me wrong. I do not mind mountain lions being in West Virginia. Just not in so up close and personal to homes and families, and mostly little children. I'm thinking they would love the Cranberry backcountry or some other far away place from people. (hint, hint)
I grew up near Cranberry in a place called Hinkle Mountain near Richwood. We would make the descent down the Cranberry river road to swim at Woodbine or the "Snake Hole." Yeah, that was the real name, and for good reason. Nevertheless, black bears have all but taken over Cranberry as they have in many places in West Virginia.
I like black bears and other wildlife. At least black bears are somewhat predictable, as in "don't get between a mamma and her cub." That was a warning we received as kids growing up in wild country and we, of course, heeded that warning. Growing up in West Virginia you learn to respect wildlife and not be as afraid as you are cautious.
However, as the kids and I have studied mountain lions, they bring an entirely different slant to our learning curve. They are unpredictable, not always afraid of people, standoffish (if they feel like it), and king of their world as in not even afraid of an occasional scrape with a black bear and in other parts of the country a grizzly bear. Interestingly enough, we saw Lilly walk past our dogs and us with only a long stare and then saunter away.
When my 15-year-old encountered Lilly the first time, he was only about 30 feet from her. She was walking up the drive beside the house. It was 7 o'clock in the evening and still very light outside. Her long stare at him left lasting impressions he will carry into old age, I am sure. He will probably be telling his grandchildren about Lilly and by that time the story will have grown into how he had to fight her off his old dog with his bare hands and throw her over a hill.
Mountain lions can also make about 100 different sounds. After watching Freaky walk across our deck and up the driveway one night about a month ago, the boys and I heard Lilly make the most mournful siren-like yell I've ever heard. It was strange. About that time, they went out of sight and the neighbors' dogs went crazy as they had invaded their yard. However, we have not heard her let out the notorious "woman type" scream that mountain lions are famous for. The type of scream that stands your hair straight up, I understand. Also, Skip Johnson, outdoor writer for The Charleston Gazette for many years, is writing a book. He called me one day and said the kittens will chirp, which was confirmed by a documentary we watched. We also heard Freaky and Toto do this. (Remember, if we name them, we cope better.)
We've learned that some mountain lions can be up to 5 feet in length, but usually around 4 feet, and their tail equals the same. We're talking 10 feet of cat here. Most are somewhat smaller, but anyone who has ever truly seen one of these cats is positively sure of what they have seen. There is no mistaking it for a bobcat due to the extreme length of tail.
And, did you know that you can eat mountain lion? Yes, indeed. Lynette Mix, a dear sweet western gal, was brought to the house by one of my many adopted (pretend) sons, Mike Cross. We were telling her all about our saga, and she replied nonchalantly, "Oh yes, I have lived around mountain lions all my life and you can eat them." She then told the story of her Montana church (her dad is a pastor in Utah, but formerly in Montana) which was having a potluck dinner and her family had the most delicious roast they had ever eaten. Lynette's mom asked the lady where she bought such a delicious roast and she replied, "Oh, it's mountain lion."
"So, I've ate mountain lion," Lynette proclaimed.
To that, Mike put his arm around Lynette and said, "That's my woman."
One lady from Tucker County, and by the way I've received many reports from Tucker County, said she saw one going across the road. It stopped and just looked at her, and sauntered away. She said Tucker County High School is called the "Mountain Lions" and they have a stuffed one in the trophy case that she looked at every day of high school, so she is positive this was a cougar.
My e-mails have been plentiful, and my phone has rung quite frequently with reports of sightings. I've not much time to follow up with individuals, or folks directing organizations concerning the cat, so I now have a "mountain lion manager," our own family friend, Mr. Wilson. I just e-mail him and say, "Pops, I've got another one for ya." And he, being the good natured soul that he is, follows up as he has kept accurate detailed notes about Lilly's saga.
Being the outdoor writer that he is, he defiantly can do a much better job than me at keeping up with Lilly and the cubs' play by play. And thank you also to everyone for respecting my family's privacy in this matter. I think West Virginians with their downhome hospitality also realize the need for family privacy and not one, not even one person has invaded our bubble (this is what my daughter calls her personal space) or have they even asked where we live. Thank you for that.
Just so you know, there have been more sightings on Chenoweth Creek Road, whether or not it was Lilly, I do not know. Male mountain lions have a several hundred-mile radius in which they consider their territory. Greedy little fellows. They also stay with the female only six days in which they, uh ... well ... become ... uh ... intimate with the female and make kitties. Then, they leave and hunt and find another female. No comment from men or women here.
Lower Cheat, Dry Fork and Chenoweth seem to be a cougar's preferred area, from what I understand. And though I do not want to be an alarmist, we need to be practical and below is some information that will empower us to deal with something we have not dealt with in our Wild, Wonderful West Virginia before:
n In and near your yard, especially near play areas, clear out vegetation that would otherwise provide cover for a stalking mountain lion.
n Consider installing a 6- to 8-foot high deer fence as a deterrent around play areas.
n Keep children indoors around dawn and dusk, the favorite times of day for a mountain lion on the hunt.
n Do not feed wildlife that would be potential prey for a mountain lion.
n Do not landscape with plants that would attract deer, the favorite prey for a mountain lion.
n Install outdoor lighting, especially near sidewalks and pathways, discouraging stalking by a mountain lion at night.
n Scatter mothballs and ammonia-soaked scraps of cloth around your yard.